Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with the Rescue Foundation: Liberating Sex Slaves in India

Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with the Rescue Foundation: Liberating Sex Slaves in India

Article excerpt

Within hours of arriving In Mumbal, Neetu found herself In a world unlike anything she could have Imagined. A world of threats and violence in dark alleys and hidden rooms filled with cramped and brutalized bodies - the world of stolen women. 'Night was like day. Day was like night,' recalls Neetu.

Young, fair-skinned and beautiful, Neetu is one of an estimated 12,000 girls and women that the UN's International Labour Organization believes are trafficked every year from Nepal to work in the brothels of India's megacities. Other agencies believe the figure to be much higher. In Mumbai alone there may be as many as 35,000 Nepali girls working in the city's notorious red-light district, giving Nepal the dubious distinction of being the largest exporter of trafficked women in South Asia. Many are tricked into leaving their homes with the promise of a well-paid job. Some are abducted. Others are sold by their own families. In Neetu's case, the brother and husband of one of her closest friends delivered her to the brothel. 'They loved me so much that I never suspected foul play,' she remembers.

Once there, she avoided looking clients in the eye in the hope that she wouldn't be selected - a tactic which resulted in regular punishment by the brothel owner. '[The owner] said that if I was not selected by customers often, I would not be able to pay off my debts to her, as she had paid a sum of money to purchase me. I was told that it would take three years for me to pay off my debts.' Neetu earned the equivalent of $3.70 per client, of which she was able to keep 22 cents for herself. And so it continued: four or five clients per day, every day, for over two years.

UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked across international borders each year. Most of these are trafficked for the purposes of prostitution. According to Save the Children India, clients now prefer 10- to 12-year-old girls. The soaring number of prostitutes believed to have contracted HIV in India's brothels has helped give India the second-largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, just behind South Africa. Yet the trafficking of women from Nepal, Bangladesh and from the rural areas of India into the brothels of the big city is a blight that has gone largely unnoticed amongst India's politicians and police forces. …

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